Original and dark paranormal romance, 3.5 stars
In Kelly Creagh's debut, NEVERMORE, the reader first meets Isobel: a blonde cheerleader with the quarterback boyfriend. Varen Nethers, on the other hand, is everything Isobel isn't: long black hair, kohl around the eyes, and a dismissive attitude. When the two are paired together for an English project, each is irritated, but they soon learn there's more to one another than the stereotype. As Isobel spends more and more time with Varen, she's drawn into the frightening world he's created in the pages of his notebook. Varen's ideas don't just stay on the page, and Isobel must try to save them both from the dream world that threatens them.
NEVERMORE brings a fresh and dark take to the young adult paranormal romance genre. Its original mythology centers on the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and the story is scarier than most, almost bordering on horror. Because of this, the book should appeal to dark fantasy fans. The novel's greatest strength, however, lies in the relationship between Isobel and Varen and its development. Instead of the instant, unexplained attraction seen in other books, their relationship grows over time and for realistic reasons. Character development for Varen is strong; he's more than just an angry goth boy and he becomes an appealing and desirable lead. Isobel was also likeable. Even though a cheerleader, she's depicted as quick, loyal, and not vapid: someone outside of the stereotype. The novel also had consistent pacing that had me turning pages to see what happened next, even with its long length.
Despite these strengths, there were some aspects that could be improved. While the first two-thirds of the book focused on the characters' relationship with only a hint of the paranormal, the last third became solely about the supernatural. There was little transition for this shift, and I wished the two parts had been merged more seamlessly. Parts of the mythology also became confusing in this portion. Secondary characters like Gwen felt too convenient. The writing also sometimes became cumbersome with drawn-out narrative or action sequences. This made the story feel a little long, not because of actual length, but because it could have been told in fewer words with the same effect. The ending, while left at a definitive point, was a cliffhanger that will require reading the sequel to see what happens next.
In all, NEVERMORE was a unique and darkly enjoyable contribution to this genre, with lots of good relationship building and a new and frightening mythology. I hope that Creagh devotes more time to clarifying her dream world in the sequel and that secondary characters are given more depth and purpose as well.
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's copy.